Public libraries have always had a place in my heart, from the time I was a little girl through my adulthood. They’ve been a quiet refuge, a loud and boisterous meeting space, a playroom for my children, and a place for me to meet new friends.
I even worked at my local library for six years, and in that time, I helped kids of all ages choose new books to love, assisted a senior citizen in filling out an online job application, helped a homeschooling family borrow resources from a library in another town, helped a disabled man locate books on Nepal (his favorite subject), bandaged boo-boos resulting from the playground next door, rescued a baby snake and returned it to the outdoors… okay, I didn’t do that one. I hopped around and freaked out while my co-worker rescued it. But I was supportive!
I can look back on my life and at every age my public library offered something for me:
I am 8 years old, standing in line outside the bookmobile bus, craning my neck to see inside, willing the people ahead of me to move faster. Hrumph. I am impatient. Finally, I can climb onto the first step, and then the second, and then there are books all around me. Every square inch of the interior is packed. The bookmobile shakes and rumbles under my feet. There is a single aisle down the middle. I have one pass to grab the book I want for the next month as the line slowly moves me toward the checkout in the front of the bus. There is a limit of one book per person, and I must choose wisely. I get to the front and present my library card and a worn copy of My Father’s Dragon. The librarian stamps the due date on the card in the back of the book, and I hop down the front steps into the outdoors.
I am 12 years old and my mother has taken my brother and me to the main library downtown. We don’t come here often. We prefer our neighborhood branch most of the time. This urban library stands several stories high, so much bigger than my branch. The lobby houses a wall-sized mosaic that is mesmerizing each time I see it. I run my fingers over the blue tiles as I walk past. We take an elevator to the children’s floor and the space is so massive that I don’t even know where to start looking. I choose fewer books to check out than I normally do because the sheer volume of materials is overwhelming.
I am 14, sitting in a lounge chair in the teen area of the library in my neighboring town. We’ve paid an out-of-town fee in order to take advantage of this library. I love the building’s low-slung contemporary feel; it reminds me of the house The Brady Bunch lived in. I am thumbing through an issue of Seventeen magazine. I’m looking ferociously cute, but no boys wander by to appreciate it.
Skipping ahead a few years, I am a young mom, taking my littles to the library in our new town. I am hungry for companionship, and my kids are excited about playing in the Children’s Room. I have signed up for a story time class, and we hang around after class is over and end up spending half the day in the library and on the playground outside with our new buddies.
I am a middle-aged mom, trying to take care of my house. I check out books on lawn maintenance, plumbing repair, and gardening. I sign myself up for a paint night and my kids for a video game tournament. I also take out books on craft beer and baking cookbooks, because everyone needs a hobby!
If it’s been a while since you visited your public library, you should check it out! Yes, I know that’s a library joke, but it never gets old. Libraries offer far more than dusty ol’ books. They lend video games, movies, telescopes, craft kits, audiobooks and so much more! They offer a cool space on a hot day, free Wi-Fi, and a warm smile. If your library doesn’t offer a warm smile, I suggest you ask them to borrow one through inter-library loan, because the best public librarians have a sense of humor!